The ‘perfect storm’ of climate change and developmentBy Graham Land Oct 18, 2013 12:37AM UTC
The recent extreme weather events besieging parts of Asia may sound routine to the casual observer. While it is true that natural disasters are associated with cyclone or monsoon season, rapid urbanization and development, coupled with climate change, are making storms increase in frequency, intensity and damage.
Although the increased incidence of extreme weather is likely a result of man-made climate change – itself a result of industrial activity – the increase in damage is greatly compacted by urbanization and rapid development. Unlike other aspects of urbanization, flood protections cannot be bought by private citizens and cannot therefore be addressed by the market. Urban drainage systems and emergency response are public works and require government funding.
From China Dialogue:
The risks of flooding are particularly apparent as the wave of urbanisation moves inland from the coastal cities: the density of people and property in at risk areas is increasing. Expanding cities mean more run-off from impermeable surfaces, and a higher risk of flooding, even if precipitation does not increase.
India, which has failed dismally in the past to properly plan and react to extreme weather events, was comparatively well prepared for Cyclone Phailin. In this case the difference was not urban planning, but planned emergency response in the form of evacuations in which 900,000 people were moved out of harms way thanks to pre-storm warnings. By Sunday afternoon 20 people had perished, a tragedy no doubt, but compared to events in 1999 when the same region was hit by a large cyclone and 10,000 people died, government responses must be judged as successful.
From Time Magazine:
The low death toll from Phailin is a reminder that the disaster in a natural disaster stems as much from the man-made response to weather (or the earthquake or the volcano or the disease) as it does from the weather itself. Hurricane Katrina was a terrifyingly strong Category 5 storm that hit New Orleans squarely, but it was the failure of government on all levels—and the failure of the levees themselves—that turned it into a human catastrophe.
The situations in both China and India highlight something that private industry causes – or at least contributes to – but only public works and public institutions can solve. That means that essentially the people are not only victims of development, but must also pay (via taxes) in order to mitigate the damage caused by the private sector.
Sanitation and hygiene issues in evacuation sites cannot be left to NGOs to solve either. In Cambodia, one of Asia’s poorest nations, recent flooding has left tens of thousands at risk to waterborne diseases, with NGOs struggling to provide enough aid. Typhoon Nari has so-far claimed 15 lives in the Philippines and six in Vietnam. In Japan Typhoon Wipha prompted no evacuation plans from the government and so far 19 have died.